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Pregnancy/ Pregnancy Loss

Staying healthy at work while you are pregnant is sometimes challenging: you may be dealing with morning sickness, back pain, or doctor’s appointments every few weeks. For women who have suffered a miscarriage, you may have need to take time off for recovery. U.S., Rhode Island, and local laws can help you stay healthy at work, give you time off when you need it, and protect you from pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Discrimination

  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal for any employer in the U.S. with 15 or more workers to treat employees unfairly because they are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or have experienced a pregnancy loss. That means:
    • Your boss can’t fire you or cut your hours when she finds out that you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant—you have the right to keep working as long as you can still do your job. You also have the right to be free from harassment at work because you are pregnant.
    • You cannot be asked about your pregnancy or plans to have children in a job interview.
    • Your employer can’t treat you differently from other workers just because you are pregnant or have had a miscarriage. The Supreme Court just decided a case where they clarified what this means. The Court said that employers may not put a “significant burden” on pregnant employees. How do you know what’s a significant burden? Start looking around at how your employer treats other non-pregnant employees who have needed an accommodation at work. For example, does your employer have a policy of giving light duty only to those with on-the-job injuries? Or did they have no problem helping out folks with non-pregnancy related disabilities, but sent all the pregnant women out onto unpaid leave? If so, this could be evidence of pregnancy discrimination. Since we are still waiting for further clarification of how this standard works, it’s best to collect all the evidence you can (policies, employee handbooks or manuals, digging around to find out how others have been treated) and to discuss your particular situation with an attorney.
  • The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act also bans pregnancy and childbirth discrimination, and applies to workplaces with 4 or more employees.

Workplace Accommodations

If you need changes at work to stay healthy on the job, the laws below can help. In addition, click the green button to learn how to talk with your boss about your pregnancy and request an accommodation if you need one.

Talk with your boss about your bump


  • The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees to discriminate against disabled workers.  Some pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, are considered disabilities under the law. This means:
    • Your boss cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or harass you because you have a pregnancy-related disability.
    • If you have a pregnancy-related disability, your boss cannot refuse to give you small changes at work that you need to stay healthy, like breaks to take medication. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations.” Your boss does not have to give you an accommodation that would be very difficult or expensive, like building a whole new office.
    • For more information about your right to accommodations, click here.
  • The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act also bans disability discrimination, and applies to workplaces with 4 or more employees.
  • A Pregnancy Accommodation Law for all of Rhode Island joins two older laws in the cities of Providence and Central Falls, in providing important additional protections to pregnant workers. If you need a “reasonable accommodation” because of your pregnancy or childbirth, your employer has to give it to you unless it would be really difficult or expensive. This means:
    • Your boss can’t just fire you if you ask for a bigger uniform or light duty while you are pregnant—she has to give you what you need to stay healthy at work, unless your employer can show that it would seriously harm the business.
    • Examples of accommodations that are covered by the laws include more frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor, and modified work schedules.
    • For more
  • If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA), you have the right to take time off during pregnancy or after experiencing a miscarriage without losing your job. See the “Leaving Work for Childbirth and Bonding” section under the next tab for more information or see this guide to your workplace rights around miscarriage.
  • New pregnancy accommodation laws (see above) may give you the right to unpaid time off work as a “reasonable accommodation.”

Leaving Work for Childbirth & Bonding

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world with no national law guaranteeing women the right to paid leave for childbirth. However, you may have the right to paid leave and/or unpaid leave during pregnancy, childbirth, and to bond with a new child (including adopted and foster children) under Rhode Island law.

Paid Leave

  • Birth mothers who work in Rhode Island can get some cash benefits while they are unable to work because of pregnancy and childbirth under Rhode Island’s Temporary Disability Insurance program, which covers most workers.
    • You can receive TDI benefits for up to 30 weeks per year. The benefit amount is about 60% of your average weekly wage (or 4.62% of your wages in the highest quarter of the base period), up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • While on TDI, you also may be eligible for a “dependents’ allowance,” which increases your benefit for each of your dependent children under age 18. You also may be able to receive partial benefits, if your pregnancy or postpartum disability limits you to part-time work.
  • If you work in Rhode Island, you are also likely eligible for the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program. This program provides payments for up to 4 weeks when you need to care for a new child during the first 12 months after birth or placement for adoption or foster care, or to care for a family member (including a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent) with a serious health condition.
    • Like TDI, the TCI benefit is calculated at about 60% of your average weekly wage, up to a cap that is adjusted each year.
    • Your employer must allow you to return to your same, or a similar, position when you return from TCI leave.
    • Partial benefits for persons returning to work part-time are not available under the TCI program.

Unpaid Job-Protected Leave

The law may protect your job while you are taking leave due to pregnancy, childbirth, or to bond with a new child (including adopted and foster children).

  • If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year for a family health emergency or to take care of a new baby— without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).
    • Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law! You must 1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite and 2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year and 3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
    • If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for your own health (including pregnancy), to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or foster placement, or to care for a seriously ill family member. Remember that you only get 12 weeks a year in total—if you take time off before you give birth for your own health needs, you’ll have less time afterward to spend with your baby.
    • Before giving birth, you may use your leave an hour or day at a time—such as by taking a day off per week to go to the doctor— rather than all at once. Your employer must approve, however, if you want to use leave time in smaller chunks to bond with your baby.
    • While you are on leave, you have the right to keep your benefits. When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a similar job.
    • If you are in the top 10% of highest-paid workers in your company, different rules apply.
  • Rhode Island has a law that is similar to the FMLA but may provide slightly longer leave— the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA).
    • You are eligible if 1) You work for any city, town, or municipal agency with 30 or more employees, any private employer with 50 or more employees, or the state; and 2) you have worked for your employer for 12 months; and 3) you have worked at least 1,560 hours with that employer in the past 12 months (this is slightly more hours than what is required by the FMLA).
    • If you are covered by the RIPFMLA, you have the right to 13 weeks (rather than 12) of unpaid, job-protected leave every two years (rather than every 1 year).
    • You can use these 13 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child, a family member’s serious illness (including a parent, husband, wife, domestic partner, child, or mother- or father-in-law), or to recover from your own serious illness.
  • If your boss treats workers who take time off for childbirth differently from workers who take time off for other medical treatments (for example, she gives most workers 2 weeks off for surgery but only 1 week for childbirth), this could be illegal under the national Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Rhode Island discrimination laws. Call A Better Balance if you think you are being treated unfairly.

Returning to Work: Recovery, Nursing, and Sick Time

When you return to work as a new parent, you may still need a few extra breaks to pump breastmilk or time off to care for your baby when he’s sick. There are a few laws that can help you get back to work safely and still care for your family.

Returning from Childbirth

  • If you are disabled for a period of time after childbirth, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rhode Island disability laws, discussed in the “While You’re Pregnant” tab, may apply.
    • If so, you may be able to get an accommodation at work, such as light duty, while you recover.
  • Even if you are not disabled, pregnancy accommodations laws discussed in the “While You’re Pregnant” tab, may give you a right to accommodation while you recover from childbirth.

Nursing Rights

  • Rhode Island’s Nursing Working Mothers law allows employers to provide reasonable unpaid break time in an area other than a toilet stall for employees to pump breast milk or breastfeed their babies—but note that this statute is worded in an odd way; it says employers may provide this break time but doesn’t seem to require them to. On the other hand, the private location shall be provided. If you are having difficulties nursing at work, consult a lawyer about this confusing law.
  • National laws may also protect your right to nurse or pump milk at work.
    • The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) gives some U.S. workers the right to take unpaid breaks at work to pump milk, and requires some employers to find a clean, private place that’s not a bathroom for employees to pump milk. This law only applies to workers and employers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)— the law that sets minimum wage and overtime requirements.
    • It may be illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for your boss to punish or discriminate against you because you are lactating.
  • Under Rhode Island law, you have the right to Breastfeed Your Child in any public or private location.
  • Pregnancy accommodation laws may also help, if you need a reasonable accommodation to breastfeed your baby at work.
  • For more information about your nursing rights, click here.

Caring for Your Family: Family Illness and Caregiver Discrimination

As a new parent, you may face discrimination at work or have problems taking time off when you or your baby is sick. These laws can help you balance your job and caring for your family.

  • If you are covered by the FMLA, you have the right to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member. See the “Leaving Work” tab for more information on this law.
  • If you work in Rhode Island, you may have a right to paid sick time, and to use the time to care for your own or a loved one’s illness or injury, to address certain “safe time” needs for you or a family members is a vicim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
    • Workers in businesses with 18 or more workers can earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time; workers in businesses with fewer than 18 workers can earn up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time.
    • If you have a right to paid sick time, you can accrue 1 hour for every 35 hours worked.
    • Sick time under this law can also be used when a worker’s place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency.
    • For more information about your rights, click here.
  • In Rhode Island, if you lose your job because you need to take care of a sick or disabled family member, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance.
  • Under Rhode Island’s Parental and Family Medical Leave Act, you may be eligible to take unpaid School Involvement Leave to attend your child’s school conferences or other school-related activities.
    • You are eligible if you meet the requirements of the state’s RIPFMLA program, discussed in the “Leaving Work” tab.
    • If you are covered, you have the right to take up to 10 hours of leave per year. You must provide your employer at least 24 hours of notice.
  • If your employer allows workers to use sick time or sick leave after the birth of their child, you must be allowed to use sick time in connection with Adopting a Child under the age of sixteen.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act also bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a disabled person. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because he thinks you can’t work as hard because you have a child with asthma. However this law does not give relatives of a disabled person the right to accommodations, such as a schedule change, to help them provide care.

Call A Better Balance if you are having problems at work because you are pregnant or parenting

Our free hotline can provide you with information about your rights at work (or refer you to another attorney or legal organization in your area). The information provided here or in response to a Hotline inquiry does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If ABB chooses to represent you, then a retainer will be signed setting out the scope of the representation.

Call 1-833-NEED-ABB

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